In dialogue with the mixed legacies of Philadelphia’s Quaker origins, this talk––”Utopia Found, Lost, and Re-Imagined”–– considers the uses and abuses of utopia in the history of the Anthropocene: the proposal to name a new geological epoch recognizing humans impact on earth’s systems. Situating our present planetary precarity in a 500-year history of global imperial projects surely suggests how the Anthropocene intersects with capitalist modernity. Yet a longer history might also draw on utopian counter-histories and cautionary examples, as well as a contemporary archive of social practice art, including the public WetLand Project on the Lower Schuylkill River, all pointing toward other possible pasts–and futures.
Bethany Wiggin is Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of German, Affiliate Faculty in English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, and Founding Director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. She has published books and essays on transnational and world literatures, the birth of fashion and commodity culture, and utopian pasts and futures. She is now working on the book Germanopolis: Utopia Found, Lost, and Re-Imagined in Penn’s Woods.